In my first Witches Terry Pratchett Style post, I talked about the Tiffaney Aching books, which Pratchett wrote for young readers.
But Pratchett does witches for grown ups too. There are several “Witches of Lancre” books: Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, Maskerade, and Carpe Jugulum (which also has the funniest take on vampires I’ve ever read).
The backbone of the Witches books is Esmeralda “Granny” Weatherwax:
It was one of the few sorrows of Granny Weatherwax’s life that, despite all her efforts she’d arrive at the peak of her career with a complexion like a rosy apple and all her teeth. No amount of charms could persuade a wart to take root on her handsome if slightly equine features, and vast intakes of sugar only served to give her boundless energy. A wizard she’d consulted had explained it was on account of her having a metabolism, which at least allowed her to feel vaguely superior to Nanny Ogg, who she suspected had never even seen one.
Witches don’t have leaders–Granny Weatherwax would never stand for it. And witches don’t take payin’, but if you have a nice ham and some used black clothing in good repair, you can leave them on her doorstep.
“Baths is unhygienic,” Granny declared. “You know I’ve never agreed with baths. Sittin’ around in your own dirt like that.”
“What do you do, then?” Said Magrat.
“I just washes,” said Granny. “All the bits. You know. As and when they becomes available.”–Witches Abroad
Granny Weatherwax’s oldest friend is Gytha “Nanny” Ogg, who is Granny’s opposite in almost every way. Short, round, and wrinkled as an old apple, Nanny Ogg brews killer apple scumble (made with “apples . . . mostly”), makes lewd comments at every turn:
Nanny Ogg was more sympathetic but had a tendency to come out with what Magrat thought of as double-intenders, although in Nanny Ogg’s case they were generally single entendres and proud of it.– Witches Abroad
Gets drunk and sings “The Hedgehog Can Never be Buggered At All,” and has a one-eyed, foul-tempered, lecherous cat named Greebo who she still sees as a sweet and harmless kitten.
It was a winter of portents. Comets sparkled against the chilled skies at night. Clouds shaped mightily like whales and dragons drifted over the land by day. In the village of Razorback a cat gave birth to a two-headed kitten, but since Greebo, by dint of considerable effort, was every male ancestor for the last thirty generations this probably wasn’t all that portentous.– Wyrd Sisters
There’s Magrat, whose mother meant to call her Margaret but didn’t know how to spell the name. Magrat is well-intentioned, overly fond of occult jewelry, and sort of inept at . . . almost everything.
No matter what she did with her hair it took about three minutes for it to tangle itself up again, like a garden hosepipe in a shed [Which, no matter how carefully coiled, will always uncoil overnight and tie the lawnmower to the bicycles].–Wyrd Sisters
Magrat had used a lot of powder to make her face pale and interesting. It combined with the lavishly applied mascara to give the guard the impression that he was looking at two flies that had crashed into a sugar bowl. He found his fingers wanted to make a sign to ward off the evil eyeshadow.–Wyrd Sisters
And then there’s Agnes–oh how I love Agnes! Agnes is a big girl, with great hair and a wonderful personality. She also has something of a split personality, which ends up saving the day more than once.
Those who are inclined to casual cruelty say that inside a fat girl is a thin girl and a lot of chocolate. Agnes’s thin girl was Perdita . . .
Agnes told herself she’d simply invented the name Perdita as some convenient label for all those thoughts and desires she knew she shouldn’t have, as a name for that troublesome little commentator that lives on everyone’s shoulder and sneers. But sometimes she thought Perdita had created Agnes for something to pummel.
Agnes tended to obey rules. Perdita didn’t. Perdita thought that not obeying rules was somehow cool. Agnes thought that rules like “Don’t fall into this huge pit of spikes” were there for a purpose. Perdita thought table manners were a stupid and repressive idea. Agnes, on the other hand, was against being hit by flying bits of other people’s cabbage.–Carpe Jugulum
Throughout the course of the novels, the witches defeat a usurper and place the rightful king on the throne of Lancre, travel to Genua and remove a frightening tyrant from power, repel an invasion of evil faeries, travel to Ankh Morpork and solve a murder mystery in an opera house, and bring down a family of organized, efficient, modern vampires.
Pratchett is always funny, but I think his witches are his most true-to-life and likeable characters. They are deeply flawed, but in the end they do the right thing–and though the books are hilarious and satirical, they are also somehow moving in unexpected moments.
Like I said: nobody does Witches like Terry Pratchett.
In the middle of this elemental storm a fire gleamed among the dripping furze bushes like the madness in a weasel’s eye. It illuminated three hunced figures. As the cauldron bubbled an eldritch voice shrieked: “When shall we three meet again?”
There was a pause.
Finally another voice said, in far more ordinary tones: “Well, I can do next Tuesday.”